Tuesday , Jul , 17 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Orlando is still on the outside looking in

(Sports Network) – The addition of Rashard Lewis does not make the Orlando
Magic a team that will be feared in the Eastern Conference. He is a scorer,
but will not be a difference maker.

Lewis, who turns 28 on August 8th, is coming off the best campaign of his
nine-year career and was awarded with a lucrative contract. He averaged 22.4
points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 60 games this past season for the
SuperSonics, who originally selected Lewis out of Alief Elsik High School in
the second round (32nd overall) of the 1998 NBA Draft.

Orlando, which finished 40-42 and was swept by the Detroit Pistons in the
first round of the 2007 playoffs, acquired Lewis from the SuperSonics on July
11th in a sign-and-trade deal in exchange for a future conditional second
round draft pick.

All-Star Dwight Howard is the cornerstone of the Magic franchise. The 6-11
Howard, who signed a contract extension with the club on July 12th, led
Orlando in scoring (17.6 ppg) and rebounding (12.3 rpg) in 2006-07. He shot an
outstanding 60.3 percent from the floor, and has developed into one of the
top big men in the league.

Before bringing in Lewis, Howard and point guard Jameer Nelson were the main
building blocks. Nelson is a pure point guard who continues to improve his
game with more experience. With Lewis in the fold, the Magic are hopeful they
have put together a dangerous threesome that can help them compete with the
elite in the postseason.

While the 6-10 Lewis is an explosive offensive player, he is not going to get
the Magic to the next level. There is no doubt that the former Sonic can score
from anywhere on the court. However, he is labeled as a “soft” player and for
good reason. He does not like to get physical down low and seems to make his
living from the perimeter.

If the Magic were looking for a one-dimensional player, then they got what
they were looking for. A one-time All-Star, Lewis, who averaged a career-best
7.0 rebounds per contest during the 2001-02 campaign, will not help Howard
significantly on the glass, but may help open up the low post for his new
teammate with his outside shooting.

Lewis was an unrestricted free agent and was one of the big names in the free
agent market this offseason. Orlando committed a lot of money over several
years to their new starting small forward, and is banking on him to be the
player that will make the club a perennial playoff contender for the next
several years.

Fact, the Magic improved themselves by adding Lewis, but he is not kind of
player that they needed to push them ahead of Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and
even the aging Heat.

Unfortunately, general manager Otis Smith was in a tough spot. He had salary
cap room and Lewis was his best option in this year’s crop of free agents. It
was obvious that Chauncey Billups was going back to the Pistons, and Gerald
Wallace is a notch below Lewis. What was Smith to do?

The Magic don’t have a lot to trade. Howard is untouchable, while Smith would
like Nelson to be the point guard for the next several seasons. They allowed
forward Darko Milicic to become an unrestricted free agent. Milicic ended up
inking a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Signing Lewis definitely makes the Magic a better team. However, it is not
going to be the move that pushes them past the top teams in the East in a
best-of-seven series. There is still more work for Smith to do.

By tying up a lot of money in Howard and Lewis, Smith will now have to be
creative through trades and in free agency. Nelson, who averaged 13.0 points
and a team-high 4.3 assists in 2006-07, is at the point in his career where he
is going to want an extension worth a substantial amount of money.

This was the year that Smith needed to make a big splash in the offseason. He
did the best he could by obtaining Lewis. The only problem is that this was a
big money move that is going to tie up a lot of cap space for the next several
years.

Howard, Lewis and Nelson make up a solid nucleus and solidifies Orlando’s
presence as a playoff contender, but it just doesn’t put the Magic in the same
class with the elite teams in the NBA.

ORL